The book of Habakkuk illuminates our understanding of the Great Controversy War, presenting Jesus as the great warrior who ends the battle between good and evil
He could not help but see them; all around. There were believers--faithful ones. There were those who had grown up side-by-side, present today only because of experiential connections--family, friends, habitual behaviors, familiar foods, remembered places, common backgrounds. But the connection was only cultural, incidental. The lives of many were far from God.
Habakkuk saw it on every side: people feigning the worship of God. Trudging through their paces, offering their slimy, anesthetized, contented correctness, the nation which should have been right, the people chosen to be Heaven's holy, special treasure, had mostly forgotten who and what they were called to be.
Now, a word from heaven, revealed to the prophet; he cannot hold it in. He speaks. But can his people hear the message?
The book of Habakkuk has three parts. A first, where Habakkuk cries out and God answers, and a second cycle of the same. After these, a final word, Habakkuk, trusting God despite appearances. There is much to glean from all of this; much to help us understand Heaven's plan for bringing ultimate and final closure, the end of the Great Controversy War.
Some fail to grasp such matters. They think that when we speak of the last generation we are adding to the gospel. This is not so. When we observe and elucidate themes divinely inwrought in the Scriptures, we are only connecting the first dot with the last. God gave us a mind designed to do that. The first idea in Scripture is "In the beginning." There is a starting-point in the narrative. Then comes sin and rebellion. Jesus comes down into humanity and brings the race back. God repairs the situation. That process of restoring harmony takes us to the connected dot, the farther end, the conclusion of the Great Controversy War. This is the theme that runs through all the Scriptures. Centered in Jesus, it resolves from myriad particular stories, sequences, events of divine-human interaction. Habakkuk's is rarely pondered. But let's proceed with Habakkuk.
Habakkuk's First Burden
Habakkuk is one of the smallest books in the Bible. We know little about the prophet, more about when he must have prophesied. Through His prophets God foretells; history follows, recording what did and did not happen. Habakkuk must have lived and prophesied between 640 and 615 BC. We know this because of actions of the nations spoken of. More on that in a moment.
Listen to Habakkuk's opening burden. He cries out but it seems God is not listening. Habakkuk's cry is not random or arbitrary; it is specific. In the second verse, he pleads with God about the violence in Jerusalem on every side. In the third, he asks, Why do you make me look at sin? Why don't you do something about it? He sees the nation's witness for truth going down; it is self-destructing.
The next verse shows the extent of the problems faced. "The law is slacked," more literally, benumbed, grown cold, vanishing away. The TORAH of God is weakening away in the midst of God's people. The violence Habakkuk sees is not outside as much as inside; it is within Jerusalem's walls. Other nations do not have His law. The injustice Habakkuk sees is among those who especially ought to be just. The violence seen is inside the gates (1:4, 12, 13; 2:1, 4, 6; 3:13a).
Habakkuk looks among God's people seeking likeness to the Creator. There is little like this to be seen. This matches the divine analysis; if the law is a transcript of the character of God, if it goes slack among God's people, their witness to His character is also failing. The law is a thumbnail sketch of Jesus' character. All of us should be living examples of Jesus-likeness, living representatives of God's government. These folk were nothing like that. The prophet feared for his people. Internally, Jerusalem was no city of peace.
God's Answer to Habakkuk's First Burden
God's answer to His servant is found in verses 5-11. It shocks him to the core. Yahweh says He will do a most surprising thing. He is raising up a heathen nation to discipline His own people. The present appearance of peace is illusory. Decay is everywhere; judgment is just around the corner. The sixth verse helps place the whole. There we read of the chaldeans, Hebrew, KASDIM, literally, Babylon. In particular, Habakkuk has in sight the nation historians call the Neo-Babyloniana, whose rise into power begins with Nabopolassar in 626 B.C. While we might not immediately know Nabopolassar, we've all heard of his eldest son--Nebuchadnezzar, receiving the throne after his father, in 605 B.C.
In this prophecy, the Babylonians are characterized as swift, relentless, powerful and violent. At verse 11 the text is difficult. Some translations say that the Babylonian attributes his victories to his god. Others, that for these men, their own might is their god.
In any case, it is an intriguing solution. Would God use a less right-doing people to chasten a more right-doing people? Would He use Babylonians to rebuke His Hebrew nation? He had given His truth to the Hebrews, not the Babylonians. What gives?
Then we think further. With great light comes what? Great responsibility. The Hebrews knew more, far more, than the Babylonians. They were far more responsible to live in the divine glow. There is more to rebuke. God is Sovereign. He will use what agents He will use. The free will of His special people is a great asset but if they choose to sin, a great liability. Jesus said that if you cannot see truth there is not the same degree of guilt, but when you claim to see what is right and yet choose not to do it, your misuse of your capacity for responsibility condemns you (John 9:41).
Our God is not trying to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Loosing rampaging Babylonians upon Israel was done not to condemn them but to save. So He sends His prophets, Habakkuk, Nahum, Zephaniah, others. Then comes the extraordinary chastising, with the question, will they return to Me not?
In the battle between good and evil, in the end, one side only is vindicated. Only a people granted great light--and living it--will be changed by great light. Only then will they themselves be great light. Then they shine in the darkness of a world overrun by the unenlightened who make their own might their god. God punishes His people with the Babylonians, but when the Babylonians make their own might their own god, or attribute their victories to their god Nabu, they go too far. God will address that in his second response.
Habakkuk's Second Burden
After the initial question and answer, Habakkuk persists; he asks a second time. He accepts that God is sending the Babylonians in judgment (v. 1:12), but asks how God can stand by while the more wicked do violence to the less? Babylon, he complains, is like a fisherman harvesting fish and living in luxury off the catch. He sacrifices not to the God of heaven but to his net. It is a form of idolatry. Why does God let all this violence continue? He asks then awaits the divine answer.
Habakkuk is asking what we can call "Great Controversy" questions. Why does a good God allow evil to persist in His world? These are questions asked by unbelievers today. Their argument is simple: God must not be God because of inconsistency between His alleged goodness and the world's actual situation.
Such reactions fail to take into account the scope of the divine enterprise. God has created a universe in which autonomous persons are granted free choice. This is also a moral universe, where choices lean to good or evil. Human persons live subject to a damaged nature inclining them to destructive and immoral self-indulgence. God is taking time to correct this situation so that every person willing to be repaired, can be repaired. Sin will never rise up again. This project takes time because God will not violate the free will He has given. Habakkuk sees a moment in time, a snapshot.
The inconsistency is because of our punctiliar perspective. If we could take in the whole of the video, from front to back, beginning to end, if we could see not only the present fail but the extended sweep of the divine repair action across history, we would see the incompleteness of the snapshot. We would see that we need not shrink our vision or settle for an inconclusive and indefinite engagement. The war hastens onward to its finis.
God's Answer to Habakkuk's Second Burden
The divine answer is seen in 2:2-20. The first verses address Israel, the latter, Babylon. But with an intriguing overlap at the question of idolatry at the end.
The beginning of Habakkuk's complaint was about the evil close at hand, in Jerusalem. In answer, God affirms that that which is prophesied shall come. It may appear to delay, but it will come. God will act. Although the prophet continues to see evil all around him, God will intervene. How then to live? The wicked is all curled up in his evil, but the just shall live by faith.
In our day, as we look all around and hear every explanation for why we cannot overcome, for why God does not demand purity or right, but how we can stand among God's people while doing and approving anything we want, and why any behavior desired is to be accepted--in our day we are to live by faith. No acceptance of evil is to be offered. Instead, God longs to demonstrate right in our lives, and right can only be actualized in our world if we cooperate with Jesus.
In the days of Habakkuk, God was preparing a group of His faithful. He is now preparing a people at our end of the human experience. How do we pass through all that is coming? One footstep at a time, one faithful act at a time. Habakkuk looks round himself and sees much that is wrong. He does not abandon Israel; he does not disown the people. He continues to believe and to be faithful to God. The righteous live by faith--whether surrounded by evil in God's people or enduring trial generated through His instruments like Babylon.
Those in Israel enriching themselves at the expense of others, will themselves be stripped for the enrichment of others. By injustice in Israel they gather gain, but Babylon will remove it.
God has something to say about Babylon. Although Babylon is God's agent, those operating as Babylon's all have something that you and I have: free will. Although God permits them to go and attack Israel and other nations, they can go farther than He intends; they can do vicious things which He does not countenance. What then?
Ultimate right and ultimate wrong are unchanged. Whether people want to acknowledge God's way or not, He will have His way. If they refuse to do what is right, He will appoint other agents. The rafters will cry out, the stones will scream, creation itself will testify on God's behalf (2:11). At verses 13 and 14 material wealth is an illusion. The labor of the wicked will all be burned up. The nations weary themselves for nothing. All the energy spent in support of stray agendas will be for nothing. Satan's agendas in every respect will come to nothing. In contrast, the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
Violence turns back upon the violent (2:17), people and animals both. In verses 18 to 20 Idols are false, empty, useless. In contrast, the Lord is in His holy temple; all the earth should be silent in respect of this fact. Idols and false worship can give no help, but Habakkuk's God is real and upholds what is just. He is to be respected.
The Prayer of Habakkuk
The last portion of Habakkuk is a prayer, even a Psalm. It is Habakkuk's answer of faith. Habakkuk has asked questions and God has answered. Here, in the last part of Habakkuk's writing, comes his thought-through response to all that has and that is about to happen in his world.
Habakkuk prays that as time rolls on, God will revive His work; that even as His wrath is poured out upon the unfaithful, He will remember mercy.
Perhaps most interesting is the picture of God given in vv. 3-15. But first, recall another picture, from the last book of the Bible, Revelation 19:11-21:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron scepter.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, 'Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.' Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh (NIV 2011).
And now, hear Habakkuk 3:3-15:
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed--but he marches on forever. I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory? You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear. In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.
Hear the similarities? Both are victory pictures; both offer "final solution" imagery. They speak to us of the end of the Great Controversy War. The picture in Revelation and in Habakkuk is Jesus coming victorious with His armies at the end of this age. Where are Teman and Paran? Not in heaven; they are locales traversed by Israel in their journey to the promised land. Teman is Edom and Paran is the Sinai desert. God comes. Heavens and earth tremble. He splits the earth with His waters, He rides His chariot forth. Sun and Moon stand still in awe. His arrows go forth, His anger against the nations is seen. He comes to deliver His people.
The "anointed one" (v. 11) here is in parallel with "people," and seems to refer to the people of God. It can also be understood as adding a thought, God coming "with" His anointed one. In any case, the divine Deliver comes. He is crushing, not the wicked alone or merely in general. Rather, He strides through the earth casting mountains and ocean aside till He stands face to face with the leader of the wicked. He takes the leader of the wicked and strips him. His defensive armor is cast aside by our victorious Lord. He takes Satan's own spear from him and pierces his head with it. He wins the Great Controversy.
We cannot help but be reminded of the first gospel promise in Genesis three. The prophesy was that the serpent would wound the Messiah's feet, but the Messiah would crush his head. When is the deliverance? Right as it appears Satan's servants are ready to annihilate God's own hiding people. God tramples the sea. He churns its great waters. At time's end, when all the world is wondering after the beast, surrounding God's own, ready at last to destroy, then, intervention! Then, Satan is stripped of his armor. Then God's people are sealed, protected, delivered, walking out hand and hand with Jesus, victorious over all sin.
When does God (Jesus) strip the enemy, pierce his head, and crush him? When He successfully produces a group at the end of time who choose to obey God rather than sin. They choose to be changed. They turn away from what they have been. Then Jesus is victorious. Satan may not be executed just yet at that time, but for all intents and purposes, his kingdom is ended. His arguments against God have been fully rebutted. The Great Controversy is solved. There is no excuse for sin anymore. Paul's prayer in Romans 16:20 is answered: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
A Final Lesson from Habakkuk
There remains to us one last portion of Habakkuk's book: verses 3:16-19. He hears and sees the vision and he trembles for what is coming upon His people and the world. He can hardly see it yet, but he has been granted the revelation, he knows what God is about to do. And so, he says he will wait patiently for God's justice against the invaders. Although the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, the fields are empty of crops--in spite of no obvious immediate fulfillment--although the vision seems to tarry--he will wait and trust God. He says that he will be joyful in God his Savior.
Then, at last he tells us that God is his strength; He makes Habakkuk's feet like the feet of a deer; He enables him to walk on the high places (vv. 18, 19).
What are the high places? The living of a faithful life hand in hand with Jesus. No matter what comes, no matter what is seen, he will be faithful to his God. And God enables him to be faithful. Habakkuk sees the correction of his people, the judgment of Babylon, but more. He is given a view of the Second Coming of Jesus and God's victory at last.
God does win the Great Controversy. He protects and empowers. He defeats Satan even, in some respects, through us. Make no mistake; even so, all the glory is His. So, we look around and we do not see how things will all end this way, how He will correct His people, and help us in spite of ourselves to embrace Jesus finally and completely in hope. We consider our lives and are not too sure that it will be found in us to surrender our sins and let Him truly and fully remove them.
Then we see that our part is simple; we must wait faithfully and serve Him. We must let Him empower us and give us nimble feet like deer so that we can walk upon the heights to which the goodness of God has called His people. Then we will be His spear. Then we shall be thrust by Him into the face of Satan. Then He is victorious. Then the head of the serpent is crushed.
Clark Fork ID SDA 2012-05-19